April 18, 2023

What Does It Mean To Have an ‘Addictive Personality’?

If you identify with this informal term, it may mean you have some addictive vulnerabilities

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Do you sometimes feel like you’re prone to having too much of something? Or maybe you have trouble saying “no” or “enough” to certain activities, substances or forms of media?

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If so, there’s a good chance you may also describe yourself as having an “addictive personality,” or you’ve perhaps heard the term and wondered if it applies to you.

As the old saying goes, too much of anything can become harmful. And it’s true that addiction can come in a lot of shades: TV, video games, food, drugs and even sex. If you’re prone to overindulgence, you may wonder if you do in fact have an addictive personality — and are curious what that exactly means.

It’s important to remember that addiction is a complex disorder that happens due to a variety of factors, and addiction is a medical diagnosis, as it relates to certain substances and activities.

On the other hand, there isn’t a medical definition for “addictive personality,” and it’s not an official diagnosis you can receive. But this more casual term can still be useful for understanding yourself, says chemical dependency specialist, Joseph Janesz, PhD, LICDC, if you use it appropriately.

So, let’s take a closer look at what an addictive personality means — and how you can use it to understand your personal health and wellness needs.

What is an addictive personality?

An “addictive personality” is a casual term that’s often used to describe a person who exhibits behaviors that they’re prone to overindulge in. You’ve probably seen this term pop up on online forums or through magazine quizzes that helped you put a name to this feeling you have about yourself. It’s also often used as a label to mean that you’re predisposed to becoming addicted or “hooked” to a substance or activity after just one use. But this simply isn’t true, as people are far more complex than this.

This is why the term “addictive personality” isn’t technically an official medical term or psychiatric diagnosis. It’s best to consider the “addictive personality” label as a good jumping-off point for figuring out what vulnerabilities you may (or may not) have.

You may associate yourself with having an addictive personality if you tend to have trouble participating in activities in moderation. This can include behaviors like:

  • Having trouble putting your phone down.
  • Rushing into relationships too quickly.
  • Finding yourself glued to the TV or video games for long periods of time.
  • Constantly buying things or shopping to feel better.

So, does this mean you have an addiction to these things? Well, it all depends.

Dr. Janesz points out that there’s never going to be just one thing that’s causing an addiction. Different types of addiction can be impacted by many factors like:

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  • Genetics. “We know that if you had a parent or grandparent with a substance use disorder, you have about four times a greater chance, genetically, of becoming someone who can have an addictive personality and an addictive disorder or substance use disorder,” explains Dr. Janesz. “But just because genetics are in play, doesn’t mean it’s predetermined. It simply means you have much more of a vulnerability.”
  • Environment. Dr. Janesz notes that signs of addiction can often be traced back to childhood. If your parents or caregivers were overly controlling, overly critical or abusive, that can have a significant impact on your self-esteem and self-worth, which can lead to a lower sense of confidence. This cascading impact on how you feel about yourself creates a vulnerability or worrisome void that you may seek to fill with risky behaviors or substances later in life.

Although the above factors like environment or genetics aren’t your fault, they still have an impact on your life and influence your vulnerabilities. “These genetic and environmental factors can lead to low self-esteem and can trigger this desire to use marijuana, over-eat, binge drink — or whatever it may be — in order to create a sense of well-being,” Dr. Janesz explains.

It may be helpful to think of an addictive personality as a reference to the vulnerabilities you have. These vulnerabilities may — or may not — lead you to develop an addiction to specific activities or substances So, while you may describe your personality as “addictive,” you may not necessarily have an addiction.

Personality traits linked to addictive behaviors

There are certain behaviors that can also be a sign of your vulnerabilities toward addiction. But remember: Even if you associate with all or some of these, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re more likely to develop an addiction.

Thrill-seeking

Do you find yourself being the one person in the group who always says “yes” to a risky idea? Maybe for you, it’s not even about the thrilling activity, but the danger associated with it.

“The thrill seeker is the person who wants to try anything,” notes Dr. Janesz. “They’ll do things like ride a motorcycle at 110 miles an hour, or try experimental drugs like LSD or mushrooms.”

Poor coping skills

When difficult things happen to us, the way we react to them may sometimes affect us more than the actual event. If you find yourself having trouble dealing with tough situations or choosing to self-soothe in unhealthy ways, it may be a sign of poor coping skills.

Some examples of poor coping skills include:

  • Over- or undereating.
  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Impulsive spending or shopping habits.
  • Sleeping too much or constantly oversleeping.

Impulsivity and mood swings

One moment, you’re thoroughly enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning cup of coffee and reading the newspaper, but the next, you’re up in arms and fuming when your partner makes an off-hand comment about the dishes that need to be put away. Sharp changes in mood can be caused by a lot of things, including having addictive tendencies.

Dr. Janesz says that abrupt mood swings that cause impulsive behaviors like, say, lashing out at someone, is a problem with mood regulation. If you have trouble balancing out strong emotions like anger or sadness, you may also be more likely to turn to certain things like drugs or alcohol to smooth out those difficult feelings.

Low self-esteem

As Dr. Janesz explains, self-esteem is a big piece of the puzzle as well. This is because our self-esteem is tightly woven into our self-worth: How we feel about ourselves and what we believe we deserve.

“It creates self-doubt and diminishes confidence,” he continues. “And that can lead to a host of problems in someone’s life.”

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For example, if you’re someone with low self-esteem, you may have trouble meeting new friends or believing that you can be successful in any way.

According to Dr. Janesz, when low self-esteem leads to low self-worth, it can also lead you to finding fulfillment in unhealthy places such as alcohol, drugs or overconsumption of media.

Can the concept of ‘addictive personality’ be harmful?

While the label of “addictive personality” can help you home in on your vulnerabilities and define your feelings, it can also be harmful in some cases. This is because the term can become a brush that paints a broad stroke over all people who experience addiction — when in fact, everyone’s situation is going to be uniquely different.

It’s also good to be aware of how the term can sometimes be misrepresented online or in different conversations. The term “addictive personality” becomes unhelpful when it:

  • Is used as an excuse not to change or seek help. Labeling yourself with an “addictive personality” can and should help you analyze when and how you may need to change your behaviors or reach out for help. But what you don’t want is for it to be a shield or excuse to avoid taking responsibility for your actions or the health risks you may be engaging in.
  • Enforces negative stereotypes about people with addictions. Another thing to look out for is using the term as a negative label given to others. Just like the term “addict” has been weaponized against people with addictions, an “addictive personality” can also be used to isolate and judge others. So, while it may be a helpful framework to better understand yourself, avoid using it as a label you assign to others.
  • Causes people to underestimate their risks. If you see having an addictive personality as an unchangeable, can’t-be-helped kind of thing — like the color of your eyes or your height — it’s best to pause and reconsider. The label isn’t an opportunity to dismiss your behaviors and choices, and definitely not an excuse to downplay the seriousness of any condition you may have.

Dr. Janesz says that if you do label yourself as having an addictive personality, you should use it as a starting point to figure out the why? He recommends looking at the full picture and seeing if there are any other related issues — such as family history, persistent mood swings or low self-esteem — that you may want to begin to understand and work through.

This process can help you take stock of your unhealthy habits and see if there are any red flags.

Tips to avoid risky behaviors associated with the ‘addictive personality’ label

If you’ve found yourself aligning with one or more of the behaviors associated with an addictive personality, you may be wondering, “Now what?”

If you’re interested in making a change to avoid or reduce risky behaviors, here are some steps you can take:

  • Start to see a therapist who can help talk through your behaviors.
  • Work on building up your self-esteem through the help of friendships and community.
  • Use relaxation and meditation techniques to lower stress.
  • Develop a self-care routine for yourself.
  • Find opportunities to socialize and enjoy positive experiences without alcohol or other substances.

When to seek help

It’s important to remember that addiction is a complex condition that can’t be overly simplified. And whether you have an addiction or not, bad habits can affect your mental state and overall health. You can use the term “addictive personality” if it helps you identify your vulnerabilities. And if you feel overwhelmed by your risky behaviors or are worried they’re causing you harm, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider to discuss different ways you can receive help.

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